Recipes from Amelia Saltsman: Falling for the flavors of Autumn

For a profile on Amelia Saltsman, visit our Hollywood Jew blog.


Photo by Staci Valentine

In late autumn, new-crop olives abound. They are often fresh-cured with their buttery flavor and meaty texture intact, making them a perfect partner to a marinade of warm olive oil, garlic, citrus peel and za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend of wild hyssop, ground sumac, sesame seeds and salt. French Lucques or bright green Sicilian Castelvetrano olives are also delicious here. (If your olives are too briny, soak them in water for 15 minutes first to remove some of the saltiness.) Olives are an evergreen option for any mezze table. In summer, use Valencia oranges and Eureka lemons; in winter, navel oranges and Meyer lemons. Be sure to have country bread or pita on hand to sop up the seasoned oil.


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound green olives
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 large clove garlic, sliced 
1 dried árbol chili 
1 lemon
1 orange

In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat until it liquefies and shimmers. Add the olives, reduce the heat to low, and warm through. Remove from the heat, add the za’atar, garlic and chili, and toss to coat. Using a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, and working over the pan, remove the zest from the lemon and the orange in long, wide strips, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the pan. Stir to mix, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate any leftover olives. Bring to room temperature or reheat to serve. 

Makes 2 cups.


Use the best chicken you can buy because this miraculous braise is all about the bird. There’s not much for the chicken to hide behind. My grandmother Mina added only onions and salt to the pot, although you would never believe it from the gravy that formed during the slow cooking. Everyone in my mother’s family still makes some version of this dish. Generations in Israel and the United States have variously added cumin, paprika, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves, and/or potatoes to the original. My cousins, my mother, my daughter Rebecca, and my son Adam cook this on top of the stove. My daughter Jessica and I prefer the leave-it-and-go oven method. Either way, serve it with something to sop up the juices: basic white rice, steamed potatoes, shmaltz-roasted potatoes, latkes, egg noodles or a nice challah. 


1 chicken (4 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or 6 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
Kosher or sea salt (sel gris is nice here as a cooking salt) and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Pat the chicken very dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, wide, ovenproof pot fitted with a lid, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat and brown the chicken. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pot. Start the pieces skin side down and turn each piece once the skin is deep golden, about 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot. Add the onions and a little salt and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time and scraping up any brown bits, until the onions are pale golden, about 10 minutes. 

Scatter the bay leaves in the pot. Return the chicken, skin side up, to the pot, nestling the pieces to fit. Cover and braise in the oven until the chicken is exceptionally tender and juices at least 1 inch deep have formed in the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 hours. Check the pot from time to time. If it seems dry, add a little water to prevent sticking. You don’t want to boil the chicken; you want it to stew in its own juices. 

Serve the chicken hot with the pot juices. (The dish can be made a day or two ahead, covered, and refrigerated, then reheated on the stove or in a 350 F oven.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Photo by Morgan Lieberman

Every Mediterranean-influenced cuisine embraces the magical late-summer marriage of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and squash — ratatouille, caponata and now gvetch, the Romanian entry. Although Romania is most often associated with its Slavic neighbors, it was once part of the Ottoman Empire, and its cuisine has a distinct eastern Mediterranean quality to it. There are endless gvetch variations, some with meat and others with a dozen different vegetables. My family has always stuck to the classic Provençal ingredients. Paprika is a Romanian note; the cumin may have found its way into the dish during my family’s three generations in melting-pot Israel.

My aunt Sarah taught me her easy stove-top gvetch; I like my oven variation even better. Roasting the vegetables concentrates their flavors and reduces the juices to a thick, caramelized sauce. Use meaty Roma tomatoes or another Italian sauce variety, such as Costoluto Genovese, for the best results. Ten minutes of active work yields a big batch you can use in a multitude of ways, and, its flavors improve over a few days.


2 pounds fleshy sauce tomatoes, such as Roma or Costoluto Genovese
4 to 6 medium-size green or white (Lebanese) zucchini or marrow squash (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
3 or 4 sweet red peppers
1 or 2 onions, peeled
6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika, or a combination 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Roughly chop the tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, sweet peppers and onions into about 1-inch pieces. Transfer the vegetables to a large roasting pan (about 12 by 15 inches) along with the garlic cloves, paprika, cumin, bay leaves, a good glug of olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons), about 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper. Toss to mix, then spread the mixture in an even layer in the pan. It should be about 2 inches deep.

Roast without stirring until the vegetables are very tender and browned in places and the tomatoes have melted into a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


In date-growing regions, the harvest begins in late summer or early autumn. Barhi dates are the first variety to be brought to market, still on the stem, a beautiful shade of soft gold, and crisp. Their flavor hovers between sweet and astringent. Golden Barhis, known as “fresh” or khalal, the second of four stages of ripeness, are lovely with late-season nectarines or mangoes in a distinctive early-autumn salad. Any astringency in the fresh dates is tamed by the use of orange juice, sweet nut oil and tart sumac in the dressing. Fresh Barhi dates are available at Middle Eastern markets, California farmers markets and by mail order for a few brief weeks in the fall. They are a rare treat, but now you know what to do with them. The basic structure of this salad lends itself to many seasonal combinations of dried and fresh fruits. Try Fuyu persimmons and pears in place of the dates and nectarines, and contrast their sweetness with additional tart dried fruits and early mandarins.


1/2 pound crisp golden Barhi dates (about 16) 
1/2 cup moist dried apricots (about 16; 2 to 3 ounces) 
2 ripe nectarines or juicy pears (about 1/2 pound total)
1/2 pound arugula
1 to 2 tablespoons nut oil, such as walnut, pecan, almond or pistachio
1 Valencia orange
Finishing salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt
Ground sumac 

Cut the dates in half lengthwise, remove the pits, then cut each half into thin crescents and place in a salad bowl. Use kitchen scissors to snip apricots into strips and add to the bowl. Halve the nectarines or pears and pit the nectarines or core the pears. Cut into thin crescents and add to the bowl along with the arugula.

Drizzle the oil to taste over the salad and toss lightly. Using a five-hole zester, and working over the salad bowl, remove the zest from the orange in long strands, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the bowl. Give the salad a healthy squeeze of orange juice and season to taste with salt and sumac. Toss the salad and sprinkle with additional sumac for color and added tartness. 

Makes 8 servings.

KITCHEN NOTE: To quickly ripen khalal-stage Barhi dates for another use, freeze them for at least 24 hours. When thawed, they will have turned light brown and have become soft and sweet. This is the same freezing technique that works with astringent Hachiya persimmons, the oblong variety that must be meltingly ripe to be eaten.


Coffee hawaij is a Yemenite spice blend of ginger, cardamom and cinnamon used to flavor coffee (not to be confused with savory hawaij for soups). Ground, it’s great for baking (you can create your own blend, as noted in ingredient list). Together with coarse semolina and walnut oil, it makes this blond loaf unique. Walnut oil is a key ingredient here, so use a well-crafted, untoasted one with no off flavors. Coarse semolina is available at Greek markets; regular Cream of Wheat can be substituted. To make a nut-free version of this cake, use another oil, such as avocado, and omit the walnuts. 


Mild oil, such as grapeseed or safflower, for the pan
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup coarse semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons coffee hawaij or 1 1/2 teaspoons each ground ginger and brown cardamom and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup untoasted walnut oil
1 cup sugar 
3 eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, semolina, baking powder, hawaij and salt. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together walnut oil and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly blended and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes total. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition just until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Bake the cake until the top is golden, springs to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife or spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert the pan onto the rack, lift off the pan, and turn the cake top side up. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes one loaf cake, 12 servings.


Photo by Staci Valentine

This is my go-to autumn dessert, perfect for all the season’s holidays, whether served on its own or as an accompaniment to cakes or ice cream. Roasting fall fruit brings out the spicy notes we associate with desserts this time of year. And it’s very forgiving: just about any combination of seasonal fruit will do, and no special techniques, precise measuring  or timing is required. This impressive dish is naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Here’s one of my favorite combinations to get you started.


4 pounds mixed apples and Bosc or Anjou pears (about 6 apples and 3 or 4 large pears), including some  firm-fleshed, such as Pippin, and some melting-flesh apple varieties, such as Golden Delicious
2 Fuyu persimmons 
1 to 2 pints figs (about 3/4 pound)
2 cups Concord, Autumn Royale or wine grapes
2 ounces dried fruit, such as plums, apricots or apples, snipped into small pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup off-dry red or white wine or a muscat dessert wine, such as Beaumes de Venise
Few thyme sprigs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the apples, pears and persimmons, if desired. Halve and core them and cut into large wedges or chunks. Cut the figs in half lengthwise. Place all the fruit, including the grapes and the dried fruit, in a large ovenproof pan and use your hands to mix them gently. It’s OK if you need to mound the fruit to fit. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and wine, warm over low heat, and then pour evenly over all the fruit. Toss in the thyme sprigs, if desired. 

Roast the fruit until it is bubbly and well browned in places, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


Photo by Staci Valentine

Gelatin desserts deserve a comeback. This easy, from-scratch gelée has a luscious silky texture and jewel-tone appeal. It is a refreshing finish to a rich meal, a beautiful autumn starter or a between-course palate cleanser. Orange tempers the more assertive flavors of pomegranate; feel free to shift the balance of juices, keeping the total amount of liquid the same. If possible, use freshly squeezed pomegranate juice available in season where the fruit is grown. Gelatin is typically a meat product. Autumn pomegranates symbolize the hope that one’s blessings in the new year will be as plentiful as its many kernels (arils). 


3 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup strained fresh orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin 
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons orange flower water 

In a measuring pitcher, mix together the pomegranate and orange juices. If any pulp rises to the surface, skim it off. Pour 1 cup of the juice blend into a small bowl. Sprinkle in the packets of gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes to soften. 

In a medium pot, bring 1 1/2 cups of the remaining juice blend almost to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar and the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Stir in the remaining juice blend and orange flower water, mixing well. Pour into small jelly glasses. Cover and chill until set, about 4 hours. (The gelée may be made a day ahead.)

Makes 8 servings.

Buying local produce adds spice to holiday dishes

As an avid farmers’ market shopper, I welcome the holiday season by noting what’s at the market, rather than by turning the page of my calendar. The High Holy Days are a time of endings and beginnings, and nowhere in my everyday life is this more apparent than when I visit my local market this time of year.

Certainly, the crops’ comings and goings evoke the holidays’ agrarian roots. But when I buy directly from local producers, I’m aware of subtle shifts within a season, and, if I’m really paying attention, of an accounting of the entire past year’s weather (and pests) and toil that has determined what is before me now.

This year will my family enjoy late-season figs and plums, along with new harvest dates and apples for a sweet new year? Will the season’s first pomegranates arrive in time to offer blessing for a year of plentiful merits?

Culture and tradition may dictate holiday fare, but climate and weather make the final menu decisions for me. Call it surrender or call it living on the edge, this local, seasonal approach makes every food on my family’s holiday table resonate with multiple meanings.

First of all, everything tastes better. Shopping locally is shopping in season, and foods have more flavor when grown and harvested in their true time and place. When even the potatoes and carrots are exceptional, I’m grateful to the farmers and shop with greater appreciation for the fixings for our celebration: the eggplants my mother uses in our family’s fire-roasted appetizer salad we simply call chatzilim (eggplants); bright-yolked eggs for knaedlach, and deliciously fresh, free-range chickens for roasting and grass-fed beef briskets for braising, with loads of local onions.

I rejoice in the bounty of heirloom apple varieties so honeyed that they need no adornment. But honey we must have, so I stop at the local gatherers to choose delicate orange blossom and robust buckwheat flavors.

If farmers have pomegranates, I’ll scatter pale-pink and ruby kernels over salad and rice and use the juice to glaze seasonal beets. Our table will be graced with market fruits and broomlike date blossoms.

If you’re a farmer, the connection between land and table is even more profound.

Esther Maso of Weiser Family Farms prepares Rosh Hashanah dinner from ingredients produced on the farm started by her parents 25 years ago as a retirement dream. Their Tehachapi and Lucerne Valley fields yield plenty: eggplants, peppers and beets for salads; fingerling potatoes, root vegetables, onions and garlic for roasting; and green-and-white-striped Sweet Dumpling squashes to stuff with rice, honey and cinnamon.

Known for its heirloom potatoes, the farm is now a multigenerational enterprise — Sidney, a former chemistry teacher from Boyle Heights; Raquel (from Mexico City); sons Alex and Daniel; daughter Esther, who left her job as a Hebrew day school teacher to help out; and now granddaughter Sarah, who’s an agricultural marketing student at Cal Poly Pomona.

This sense of family permeates farmers’ markets. Chefs who frequent them feel it as they seek their own favorite holiday ingredients.

Andrew Kirschner of Wilshire Restaurant wants great carrots and prunes for tzimmes-stuffed capon, because “having worked with local farmers so long, it’s special to have their foods at my own family’s table.”

Pastry chef Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Seasonal Restaurant and Wine Bar gets dried pluots and plums for rugulach, and Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe buys armloads of leeks (that we may vanquish our enemies) for Sephardic leek patties she learned about from a friend years ago.

For me, that special ingredient is the date. In Southern California, we have a unique opportunity to connect with this ancient crop, for the desert southeast of Los Angeles produces our country’s entire supply.

Only if you shop locally do you learn that the two-and-a-half-month harvest begins just after Labor Day, and that there are many more varieties than Deglet Noor and Medjool — in early September I also find 24-hour-old Barhi, Khadrawi, Amber, Precioso and Zahidi — and that you can enjoy them, as they do in the Middle East, in varying stages of ripeness, from golden, crunchy Khalal still on the stalk to melting Rutab and the familiar, chewy dried Tamar.

I’m always overcome by their biblicalness. So is date rancher Robert Lower of Flying Disc in Thermal, Calif.

“Many a time when I’m out in the palm, with a view to the east almost unobstructed by humanity, I’m transported to what it must have been like 5,000 years ago,” Lower says. Over the millennia, there have been a few improvements to the date, but pollination and how they grow are the same as they were back then. It’s hard to improve on perfection.”

Everett Davall, another producer, tells me, “We’re so lucky to have a desert in the United States.”

Where many of us would see an arid expanse, the date grower sees fecund possibility. Isn’t that what Ecclesiastes 3:13 is all about— seeing the good in toil, finding the blessings in the not so obvious?

I’m directed to this passage by Adina Rimmon, who works at the Santa Monica market with citrus and pomegranate grower Peter Schaner. For Rimmon, a member of Beth Jacob Congregation, the physical labor, communion with farmers and customers and intense seasonality bring her closer to God.

The equally devout Catholic Schaner agrees: “I’m completely dependent on God for my existence as a farmer. I can’t ever forget that connection.”

“Getting closer to our food source gives us opportunities to explore our relationship to our fellow man, God and ourselves and find deeper symbolic meaning in ritual foods,” said the appropriately named Rimmon (Hebrew for pomegranate). “Take the pomegranate. You could say the blessing and be done, or you could also think about the fruit’s other attributes — the tree’s thorny branches, the fruit’s thick skin — the challenges required to get to the treasure inside.”

And this is perhaps the richest of all the gifts I receive by shopping locally: life lessons from passionate farmers to help me reflect and do mitzvot — support small family farms, help protect agricultural space and close the circle. Judaism isn’t easy, especially at this time of year. Neither is farming.

Flame-Roasted Eggplant Spread With Lemon and Garlic

Use traditional black-purple globe eggplants or try purple-and-white Rosa Biancas with creamy white flesh and few seeds. Either way, choose firm, shiny eggplants that are heavy for their size and free of soft spots. Although a bit messy, roasting eggplant over an open flame adds sweet smokiness and keeps the flesh white.

2 large eggplants (about 1 pound each)
4 to 6 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
1 scant teaspoon minced garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher or sea salt
Cucumber and tomato for garnish
Challah or pita crisps to serve

Place the whole eggplants directly on the burners of a gas stove turned to medium-high or close to a medium-high fire on a grill. Roast, turning often, until the skins blacken and flake and the eggplants collapse and are meltingly tender — 10 to 15 minutes. As the eggplants start to char, the skins will tear and release steam and juices. If the skin burns before the flesh is tender, lower the flame slightly.

Remove each eggplant to a plate. Use two large spoons or spatulas to manage this. While still hot, split them open flat like a book. Scoop the pulp into a sieve set over a bowl, scraping as much as possible from the skin and leaving any juices behind. If there are a lot of seeds, remove some, and pick out any black bits of skin. Drain for 10 minutes, discard the juices and place the pulp in a bowl.

Using a whisking motion, mash the pulp with a fork, adding the oil gradually until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the garlic, lemon juice and salt to taste.

The mixture will be a pale gold. It can be refrigerated for up to one day before serving. Serve at room temperature garnished with cucumber and tomato and accompanied with challah.

Makes about two cups.

Pomegranate and Orange-Glazed Beets

24 small beets, 1 to 2 inches in diameter or 3 pounds larger beets, quartered
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut off the beet greens, leaving one inch of stem attached to beets, and reserve for another use. In a large baking dish, toss the beets with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cover pan and roast beets until almost tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes, shaking the pan once during cooking time. Uncover, shake the beets again, and roast uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes more.

When cool, peel the beets using a paring knife (skins should come off easily). The beets may be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Return them to room temperature to finish the dish.

Pour the orange and pomegranate juices into a large skillet set over medium-high heat, and cook until juices are reduced by half and slightly syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add the beets and a little salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the beets, frequently spooning the juices over them until the juices become a very thick syrup, six to seven minutes. Stir in the tablespoon of margarine or butter, reduce the heat as needed to keep the glaze from browning and stir constantly one to two minutes until the beets are richly coated and the juices are a thick glaze. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Makes six servings.

Slow-Roasted Seasonal Fruit

Use a mix of late summer and early fall fruits, such as Golden Delicious (or other tender, quick-cooking) apples, pears, figs, peaches, prune-plums, and concord grapes. If you prefer, you can use an off-dry red wine instead of the muscat dessert wine. Serve with honey cake.

3 pounds mixed fruits
1 cup concord or red grapes
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup muscat wine

Preheat oven to 375 F. Halve fruit and remove pits or cores, and quarter apples and pears. Place fruit cut-side up in shallow baking pan. Scatter grapes on top.

Warm the honey and drizzle over fruit. Pour wine over all and roast, basting occasionally, until fruit is tender and juicy and edges are browned, about 45 minutes.

If desired, place under a hot broiler to further crisp the fruit. Serve warm or make this early in the day and serve at room temperature.

Makes eight servings.

Roasted Potatoes, Root Vegetables, Onions, and Garlic

This recipe can be multiplied easily but use a little less oil than the math would call for. A variety of small fingerling potatoes are lovely here because they can be roasted whole. Add red or yellow carrots to the mix for extra color.

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and left whole if less than 2 inches in diameter or halved or quartered
1 pound each carrots and parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 onions, cut into eighths
1 small head of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large roasting pan(s), toss all ingredients together with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered until vegetables are tender and browned, one to one and one-half hours. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Makes eight servings.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Stuffed With Honeyed Rice

Add a little or a lot of honey, depending on how sweet you would like this dish. The squashes can be baked a day ahead, filled in the morning and reheated just before serving.

8 sweet dumpling or other small, hard squashes, 8 to 10 ounces each
1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib celery with leaves, chopped
1 cup long grain rice
1 cup each chicken stock and water or 2 cups water
1 to 3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup currants or raisins, optional
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place whole squashes on baking sheet and roast until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Cut off tops about one inch down from crown of squashes to make lids. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard seeds and strings.
If the cavities are very small, scoop out some of the cooked meat and reserve. Squashes may be prepared to this point a day ahead and refrigerated.

In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté onion and celery with the oil, seasoning with a little salt, until translucent, five to seven minutes. Add rice to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until rice grains whiten, two to three minutes.

Stir in stock, any reserved cooked squash, half teaspoon salt, honey and currants. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook rice until tender and all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Add cinnamon and stir rice with a fork to fluff and allow steam to escape. Taste and add salt or additional cinnamon to taste.

Fill the cavities of each squash with rice mixture, mounding but not packing the rice. Use about a third of a cup for each squash. Put squash tops on (some of the rice will show at the sides), place on baking sheet and return to oven to heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. Squashes may be filled several hours ahead; allow rice mixture to cool first.

Makes eight servings.

Recipes adapted from “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories From the Market and Farm,” by Amelia Saltsman (Blenheim Press, 2007).

Amelia Saltsman, a Santa Monica-based writer and teacher, is an ardent supporter of local farming and the author of the award-winning “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farm.”

Photo: Fresh veg at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

A Single Problem

I have a perfect record in setting up my friends on dates: I have struck out every single time. I am 0 for 20, maybe worse. Only one relationship that I tried to initiate made it past the first date. That one lasted for four years and ended in tears, anguish and confusion. The only thing those two friends agreed on in the end is they would never accept my offer to set them up again with anyone, ever.

Two years ago, the last time I tried to set a friend up, I called her Sunday morning to see how Saturday night went. There was a pause on her end of the line. “Do you,” she said, “even know me?”


The problem is, I know far more wonderful Jewish single women than men. They are in their 30s and 40s, ready and eager to marry and start a family. They are smart, accomplished professionals. They have good senses of humor. They range from attractive to drop-dead gorgeous, from economically independent to loaded. And this is all they want: a nice, eligible Jewish guy in his late 30s or 40s.

No big deal? Judging from their experiences, such a creature is as rare as a Narnian efreet.

I know that on a sociological level, this oft-discussed problem has consequences far beyond one woman’s thwarted desires. The Jewish population is in decline, and our inability to breed at least at a replacement level is the usual suspect.

The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, conducted by United Jewish Communities, revealed that more than one-half of American Jewish men and more than one-third of American Jewish women ages 25-34 are not married.

Even among Orthodox Jews, who are far more likely to marry younger and bear more children, the numbers of unmarried Orthodox adults today are far higher than they were several decades ago.

Compared to other Americans, Jewish women marry later, and are more likely to be childless. In all, 42 percent of the Jewish adult population is single, and 30 percent of Jewish households are single-dwellings.

These statistics are the fodder for so much expert debate and the inspiration for every kind of singles outreach from SpeedDating to Friday Night Live to the upcoming round of holiday-themed “young single” parties. (Ten years ago, those parties were advertised to 20- and 30-somethings. Now I see the age has crept up to 40- and early 50-somethings.)

But I see the problem on a much more personal level every week. My friends want to find someone. The dating game gets old. The war stories, like all war stories, are better savored from the vantage point of the victor. At a certain point, the Howard Stern factor kicks in. A successful Jewish man in his 50s can date 20- or 30-year-olds. So the options for a Jewish woman in her early 40s grow ever more narrow.

I don’t know why that is. My sense is that finding the right mate has always been difficult: see any Shakespeare comedy, see all chick lit, read any Singles column in this paper any given week.

Being Jewish makes it more difficult — naturally — because the pool is smaller (I didn’t say “more shallow”).

But that is the dilemma, and it is not going away on its own, or through holding fast or promoting orthodoxies that, in this day and age, have built-in limitations on their appeal.

My suggestions?

One way to expand the pool is to pursue conversion. Numerous studies have shown that religion in the home is the woman’s domain: if she wills it, it is no dream. Synagogues, community and educational centers and Jewish leadership should offer all the resources and support at their disposal to a woman committed to Jewish life who enters into a relationship with a non-Jew. The acceptance and joy she finds in her faith will embrace her children and her spouse as well. Free counseling, loads of useful materials on the Web, even drop-in centers will help turn what we are conditioned to think of as loss into opportunity. The Reform movement’s new emphasis on conversion in interfaith relationships (see page 18) is a major and welcome step in this direction.

As for the rest of us, in this season of giving, resolve to give a single friend the gift of one blind date this year. One good fix-up for each person on your list. Do it –because Lord knows I can’t.

Last month I attended a wedding in Westwood. The bride and groom met on JDate. Evidently, on JDate, you get messages from people who read your online profile and are interested, but you also see the e-mails of people who’ve checked you out and passed. The bride read the profile of one such man. He had read about her, seen her picture, and decided she wasn’t the one.

“I saw you saw my profile,” she e-mailed him soon after, “and decided not to contact me. You’re making a big mistake.” By waiting for some fantasy digital woman to drop into his inbox, he was missing out on an opportunity to get to know someone real and terrific.

Impressed by her chutzpah, he e-mailed her back. They went to Hawaii on their honeymoon.

The moral of this story is twofold. One: Jewish men should realize they are missing out on plenty of wonderful women. And two: Amid the dry and bleak statistics, there’s can still be a happily ever after….